Although commercial vehicles are tasked with safely sharing the road with other motorists, the reality does not always match that ideal. Unfortunately, commercial vehicle accidents injure and kill thousands of people in the United States each year. In fact, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's 2016 Pocket Guide to Large Truck and Bus Statistics, 3,649 of the fatal motor vehicles accidents that occurred in 2014—as well as approximately 472,000 non-fatal crashes—involved at least one large commercial truck or bus.
When commercial vehicles and passenger vehicles collide, the results can be catastrophic or even deadly—which is no surprise, considering that commercial vehicles vastly outmatch passenger vehicles in both size and weight. Those fortunate enough to survive a commercial vehicle accident often face significant physical and financial challenges.
However, if the commercial vehicle accident was caused by a commercial driver or trucking company's negligent actions, victims may be entitled to compensation for injuries, property damages, and other losses. If you were hurt in a commercial vehicle accident you did not cause, here's what you need to know.
Examples of Commercial Vehicles
As the name suggests, commercial vehicles are those used for commercial or business purposes. While large trucks or buses are usually the first things that come to mind when thinking of commercial vehicles, technically, any vehicle can be considered a “commercial vehicle” if it is licensed as, and used for, commercial purposes. This includes SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, hearses, and limousines. Other common commercial vehicles include:
- Semi-trucks, big-rigs, and 18-wheelers: Large trucks used for hauling goods and materials to and from points all across the country.
- Delivery vans: These large, light-duty vans are used to transport and deliver things like packages, cakes, flowers, and food.
- Box trucks: Also known as straight trucks, these vehicles are primarily used by moving services to haul people's furniture and other belongings.
- Dump trucks: These commercial vehicles transport garbage to landfills and may also be used to haul loose materials such as gravel, dirt, sand, or mulch.
- Tanker trucks: Tasked with transporting liquids like water or oil, tanker trucks may be subject to strict regulations if they carry hazardous materials.
- Flatbed trucks: Recognizable due to their flat, open trailer, flatbed trucks are ideal for transporting goods and equipment that must be tied down. Cut lumber is often transported this way.
- Tow trucks: When a car or truck breaks down, a tow truck is used to pull the vehicle to an auto shop for repairs.
- Refrigerated trucks: These trucks are used to transport perishables, such as produce, meat, and some medicines.
- Passenger buses: As the name suggests, passenger buses are used to transport passengers—whether across town or the country.
- Cement mixer: These commercial vehicles are used to transfer wet cement mix to a construction site.
Common Causes of Commercial Vehicle Accidents
Commercial vehicle accidents can have a number of causes—many of which could have potentially been avoided had the commercial driver or trucking company followed the applicable trucking regulations and employed the proper safety precautions. When truck drivers or trucking companies try to cut corners or skirt regulations, they put everyone on the road at risk.
Some of the most common causes of commercial vehicle accidents include:
- Driver fatigue: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) limits drivers to 11 hours of driving time and mandates rest. Still, too many commercial drivers get behind the wheel while drowsy.
- Distracted driving: Commercial truck drivers are susceptible to many of the same distractions as other motorists, including cell phones, texting, navigational systems, and eating and drinking.
- Driving under the influence (DUI): Commercial drivers who are under the influence of alcohol may experience delayed reaction times, endangering themselves and other motorists.
- Aggressive driving: These behaviors include speeding, tailgating, cutting people off, running red lights, and weaving through traffic.
- Blind spots: Large trucks have significant blind spots that can make it difficult to see passenger vehicles with smaller profiles.
- Improper truck maintenance: Commercial trucks require regular inspections and maintenance. When a driver fails to make an inspection or the trucking company drags their feet on repairs, accidents can occur.
Injuries Associated With Commercial Vehicle Accidents
- Broken or crushed bones
- Spinal cord injuries, including varying degrees of paralysis
- Head and brain traumas, including concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Internal injuries
Damages Available for Commercial Vehicle Accident Victims
The costs associated with recovering from a commercial vehicle accident can be astronomical. Fortunately, victims injured in crashes caused by someone else's negligent behavior can seek compensation for medical expenses, property damages, lost income and earning capacity, pain and suffering, physical impairment, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
When to Hire an Attorney
While it is true that accident victims do not need to hire an attorney after every little fender bender, it would be unwise to fail to hire one after being involved in a commercial vehicle accident—especially ones that caused serious injuries or significant property damages. Accident victims who answer “yes” to the following questions may benefit from hiring legal representation:
- Did the accident happen less than 18 months ago?
- Was the commercial vehicle accident someone else's fault?
- Did the accident cause at least $2,000 in medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages?
- Does your vehicle have visible damage from the accident?
- Did you seek immediate medical attention after the accident?
- Have you seen the doctor regularly since the accident?
- Did you complete all the treatments recommended by your doctor?
- Did your injuries include broken bones or necessitate surgery?
- Does the at-fault party have insurance?
Navigating the Legal Process
Not all personal injury attorneys are created equally, so before hiring one to represent you, it is important to understand what your options are, as well as what's at stake. After a commercial vehicle accident, a quick and easy out-of-court settlement may seem ideal. However, if negotiations break down or the opposing party refuses to offer a fair settlement amount, you may find yourself taking your case all the way to court. Unfortunately, not all personal injury attorneys are equipped to handle a full trial. Before hiring an attorney, make sure they are prepared to do what's best for you and the case.
Hurt in a commercial vehicle accident? Call Case Barnett Law today to schedule a free initial case consultation.